NASA Phoenix Mars Lander Confirms Frozen Water


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Message 771298 - Posted: 21 Jun 2008, 13:11:30 UTC
Last modified: 21 Jun 2008, 13:21:17 UTC

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/news/phoenix-20080620.html

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Scientists relishing confirmation of water ice near the surface beside NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander anticipate even bigger discoveries from the robotic mission in the weeks ahead.

"It is with great pride and a lot of joy that I announce today that we have found proof that this hard bright material is really water ice and not some other substance," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, during a Friday news briefing to announce the confirmation of water ice.

"The truth we're looking for is not just looking at ice. It is in finding out the minerals, chemicals and hopefully the organic materials associated with these discoveries," said Smith

The mission has the right instruments for analyzing soil and ice to determine whether the local environment just below the surface of far-northern Mars has ever been favorable for microbial life. Key factors are whether the water ever becomes available as a liquid and whether organic compounds are present that could provide chemical building blocks and energy for life. Phoenix landed on May 25 for a Mars surface mission planned to last for three months.

"These latest developments are a major accomplishment and validation of the Mars Program's 'follow-the-water' exploration framework," said Doug McCuistion at NASA Headquarters, Washington, director of the space agency's Mars Program. "This specific discovery is the result of an outstanding team working with a robust spacecraft that has allowed them to work ahead of their original science schedule."

The key new evidence is that chunks of bright material exposed by digging on June 15 and still present on June 16 had vaporized by June 19. "This tells us we've got water ice within reach of the arm, which means we can continue this investigation with the tools we brought with us," said Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station, lead scientist for Phoenix's Surface Stereo Imager camera. He said the disappearing chunks could not have been carbon-dioxide ice at the local temperatures because that material would not have been stable for even one day as a solid.

The disappearing chunks were in a trench to the northwest of the lander. A hard material, possibly more ice, but darker than the bright material in the first trench, has been detected in a second trench, to the northeast of the lander. Scientists plan next to have Phoenix collect and analyze surface soil from a third trench near the second one, and later to mechanically probe and sample the hard layer.

"We have in our ice-attack arsenal backhoeing, scraping and rasping, and we'll try all of these," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, lead scientist for Phoenix's Robotic Arm.

Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, reported that an issue reported earlier this week related to producing thousands of duplicate copies of some file-maintenance data files has been diagnosed, and a corrective software patch will be sent to Phoenix within a few days. Science operations continue in the meantime, though all data collected must be relayed to Earth on the same Martian day it is collected, instead of being stored to non-volatile memory when Phoenix powers down to conserve energy during the Martian night.

Images sent back Friday morning from Mars showed that the doors to the Number 5 oven on the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer opened part way. The instrument team is working to understand the consequences of this action.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, located in Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. For more about Phoenix, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix and http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu.



Media contacts: Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Sara Hammond 520-626-1974
University of Arizona, Tucson
shammond@lpl.arizona.edu


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Message 772127 - Posted: 22 Jun 2008, 20:43:10 UTC

http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hMiXjy4Ur9EkmeNnxqMi5RhhItZAD91F8NI81


Can the Martian arctic support extreme life?

By ALICIA CHANG – 3 hours ago

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bizarre microbes flourish in the most punishing environments on Earth from the bone-dry Atacama Desert in Chile to the boiling hot springs of Yellowstone National Park to the sunless sea bottom vents in the Pacific.

Could such exotic life emerge in the frigid arctic plains of Mars?

NASA's Phoenix spacecraft could soon find out. Since plopping down near the Martian north pole a month ago, the three-legged lander has been busy poking its long arm into the sticky soil and collecting scoopfuls to bake in a test oven and peer at under a microscope.

There hasn't been a eureka moment yet. But Phoenix turned up a promising lead last week when it uncovered what scientists believe are ice flecks in one trench and an icy layer in another.

Scientists hope experiments by the lander will reveal whether the ice has ever melted and whether there are any organic, or carbon-containing, compounds.

"We're looking for the basic ingredients that would allow life to prosper in this environment," chief scientist Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson has said in describing the mission's goal.

The discovery of extreme life forms, known as extremophiles, in unexpected nooks and crannies of the Earth in recent years has helped inform scientists in their search for extraterrestrial life.

"It's very suggestive that there are lots of worlds that may support life that at first glance may look like fourth-rate real estate," said Seth Shostak, an astronomer at the SETI Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

While the possibility for ET seems to grow with new extremophile discoveries on Earth, the truth is there's no evidence that life ever evolved on Mars or if it even exists today.

But if there were past or present life on the red planet — a big if — scientists speculate it would likely be similar to some extreme life on Earth — microscopic and hardy, capable of withstanding colder-than-Antarctica temperatures and low pressures.

"It's going to be microbes. It's not going to be a little green man," said Kenneth Stedman, a biologist with the Center for Life in Extreme Environments at Portland State University.

Under a microscope, extremophiles vary in size and shape. Some resemble miniature corkscrews while others are rods or irregular shapes. Scientists use a dye to distinguish the living ones from the dead.

The Phoenix mission has its limitations beside a shoestring budget of $420 million. It doesn't carry instruments capable of identifying fossils or living things. Rather, the lander has a set of ovens and a gas analyzer that will heat soil and ice and sniff the resulting vapors for life-friendly elements. Its wet chemistry lab will test the pH, or acidity, of the soil much like a gardener would. And its microscope will examine soil granules for minerals that may indicate past presence of water.

Most living things on Earth thrive not only in the presence of water, but also need sunlight, oxygen and organic carbon. But the range of conditions in which life can survive has been expanded with recent discoveries of micro-organisms trapped in glaciers and rocks or living in volcanic vents and battery acid-like lakes.

These extreme conditions on Earth mirror the harsh environments found on Mars and other parts of the solar system. Present day Mars is like a desert with no hint of water on its weathered surface, although studies of rocks suggest the planet was wetter once upon a time.

Most researchers agree life likely cannot develop on the Martian surface, which is bombarded by lethal doses of radiation. But satellite images have revealed a softer side, spying hints of a vast underground store of ice near the red planet's polar regions. Phoenix last week hit what's thought to be an ice layer 2 inches below the surface.

Even if Phoenix uncovers microbe-habitable conditions, a more sophisticated spacecraft would be needed to determine if life was ever there or is present now.

The last time NASA looked for organics was during the 1976 twin Viking missions, which sampled soil near the Martian equator but turned up empty.

Scientists chose to dig in Mars' far north this time because they think it's an analog to Earth's polar regions, which preserve life's building blocks and sometimes even life itself in ice.

Researchers have shown microbes on Earth can be inactive in a deep freeze for thousands of years and resuscitated under the right conditions.

In 2005, NASA researchers announced they revived bacteria that were apparently dormant for 32,000 years in a frozen pond in central Alaska. Earlier this month, Penn State University scientists said they were able to grow in the lab an ultra-small species of bacteria trapped in a Greenland glacier under high pressure and low oxygen for at least 120,000 years.

"There's a lot of amazing things that survive in the cold environments," said Jennifer Loveland-Curtze, a senior research associate at Penn State.

What that means for Mars and other hostile environments is debatable. But scientists are plumbing the depths of Earth for clues to possible life that may exist elsewhere in the universe.

"We need to continue to try to understand what's going on with the extremophiles here on Earth," said Stedman of Portland State University. "The more we learn how extremophiles here are functioning, the more that will inform any kind of future mission."
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Message 774614 - Posted: 28 Jun 2008, 6:15:51 UTC

Thanks for sharing with us Mr. Gray. ;-)
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Message 774623 - Posted: 28 Jun 2008, 7:17:27 UTC

No problem at all.

Funny it's not all over the news with hour long special reports,
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Message 774631 - Posted: 28 Jun 2008, 7:31:54 UTC - in response to Message 774623.

No problem at all.

Funny it's not all over the news with hour long special reports,

People are too concerned with other "more important things" such as the life of Brittany Spears to be concerned with the "unimportant" science {rolls eyes and wonders about how society hasn't fallen apart from excess stupidity.}
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Message 774644 - Posted: 28 Jun 2008, 8:19:53 UTC

The discoveries coming from this Mars lander are exciting. But the modern obsession with the happenings and trivia of the famous (for what) makes the general populace seem shallow.
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Message 774667 - Posted: 28 Jun 2008, 9:16:15 UTC
Last modified: 28 Jun 2008, 9:17:15 UTC

Just thinking;

Was there any doubt that water was once on Mars.
Finding if any is left and where might be important for future (far Future) Mars Missions.
$420 Million is a small budget ??.

Organic compounds ?? yes, but we want to know is there strong evidence of past or current life there --Microbes will do. Did we go all the way there and spend $420 million and not have this capability ?

Have you been to Rome and seen the excavations that are maybe 20 feet below the current street level. These expose complete records of past versions of the city that were covered over by natural processes. With the high winds on Mars wouldn't we need to go down deep to see how things were in ages ago on Mars when it had a more benign climate. atmosphere and temperature stability

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Message 774672 - Posted: 28 Jun 2008, 9:28:49 UTC
Last modified: 28 Jun 2008, 9:50:19 UTC

I'll settle for microbes for now,

Spacecraft and Science Instruments on Phoenix:

http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu/science05.php


Plus a few ray guns, a trained monkey named bloop, and a legal document stating the USA retains rights to all real property on the planet.

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Message 774675 - Posted: 28 Jun 2008, 9:33:35 UTC

Thank You

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Message 774686 - Posted: 28 Jun 2008, 9:51:25 UTC

Any time, Sir.


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Message 775020 - Posted: 29 Jun 2008, 1:43:26 UTC
Last modified: 29 Jun 2008, 1:43:46 UTC

Earth's most extreme lifeforms:

http://space.newscientist.com/article/dn14208-the-most-extreme-lifeforms-in-the-universe.html?DCMP=ILC-hmts&nsref=specrt12_head_Extreme%20living

The most extreme life-forms in the universe

* 00:00 26 June 2008
* NewScientist.com news service
* Anna Davison
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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." - Dr. Seuss

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